In case you haven’t noticed, the big tech companies continue to grow in power. That growth is allowing them to not only generate massive amounts of wealth for investors but also shape society. When I say big tech, I’m not just referring to the public companies that make up what is known as the FAANG group of stocks that includes Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google, and of which I would also include Microsoft. My definition of big tech also includes privately held companies known as “unicorns”, companies that have rapidly went from zero to $1,000,000,000 valuations such as Nextdoor, Udemy, Instacart, SpaceX, Stripe, and the like.
As someone who works in technology, it’s great to see companies in this space have success. However, that success has not come without controversy. The more we learn about how these companies operate, how they make money, and how they exploit their users, the more we should be concerned about the impact they have on the world around us. It’s a multi-faceted problem that Maëlle Gavet explores in her book Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech’s Empathy Problem And How To Fix It.
One of my primary reading genres is books about health and nutrition. I feel it’s vitally important that we’re aware of what we’re feeding our bodies. I typically make it a point to read at least one book from this group every year, although I wouldn’t mind reading more. Unfortunately, I’d gotten away from reading in this area over the last year or two with the last good book I read about nutrition being The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung back in in 2019 (which I would highly recommend, by the way).
One of the challenges with reading health and nutrition books is identifying books based on solid science. There are so many books on the subject that it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Depending on the quality of the book, suggestions can be life changing for the better, or, if not researched properly and supported by quality data, they can have negative effects on one’s health, potentially even hazardous outcomes in the extreme.
Fortunately, one of my favorite blogs, A Learning a Day, made a strong recommendation for a nutrition book, The Diet Myth by Tim Spector. Given the good experiences I’ve had with previous recommendations from the blog, I added it to my (lengthy) reading list and finally got around to reading it.
I’ve been reading books related to Stoicism and ancient Stoic philosophers for a few years now. I can trace my interest to Brad Feld’s blog, which is one of few that I still follow regularly. He wrote a book review about The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman at the end of 2017. I was intrigued.
I had heard of Ryan Holiday. His book, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, transformed the way I view mainstream media and popular news websites. Little would I know that reading The Daily Stoic during 2018 would change my outlook and approach to life.
Since then, I’ve continued my exploration of Stoicism. I’ve read additional books related to Stoic philosophy, including other Ryan Holiday books such as Ego Is the Enemy and Stillness Is the Key, which I recently finished.
My best source for book recommendations are from those who I know well, whether they are family, friends, or close acquaintances. We talk about books enough that they have a good feel for the types of books that I might like. It’s also easy for me to figure out how to prioritize a book by how they describe it to me. It’s how I learned about The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. A couple of years ago, my daughter Courtney read it for one of her college classes and recommended it to me. She even went as far as to lend me her personal copy, which was an old school traditional hardback. Before we dive into this review, I only have one regret with this book – that I let it languish on my book shelf for the better part of two years before opening it up.
The best book recommendations come from those who are closest to you. They are the ones who know you best. Since my two oldest daughters have started reading regularly, one of the side benefits has been getting book recommendations from them. For example, last summer Amanda recommended Recursion by Blake Crouch, which I really liked. Then, later in the year, Courtney recommended Lexicon by Max Barry, which I thoroughly enjoyed. As it turned out both books had been on my reading list, but their recommendations pushed them to the top.
So when both of them recommended American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, a book that wasn’t previously on my radar, I didn’t just add it to my reading list. I put it at the top. I figured it deserved priority treatment since they both suggested I read it.
Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
I’m intrigued and constantly amazed by the power of the human brain. I’m convinced had I not taken a liking to computers and electronics growing up that I would have ended up a neuroscientist. The more I read about the brain, the more fascinated and interested I become. What’s most amazing to me is how little we understand of its operation, even after all the brain research that’s been done over the last century . After all that time and energy, researchers have only scratched the surface. There is still so much more they have yet to discover.
A lot of my interest in the brain is understanding how to maximize its utilization. If one was to compare the human body to a computer, the brain is the microprocessor. It has the job of processing the inputs our senses provide, which is our interface to our environment. Those inputs, which make up our experiences, in turn affect the make up of our brain, which in turn determine our personality, which is in effect who we are. In my opinion, the better we are at using our brain, the closer we get to realizing our true potential.
Based on these interests, when the book Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Growth by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi showed up in my Amazon recommendations, if felt like the perfect fit. Of course I had to read it.
I enjoy reading, as evidenced by the number of book reviews on my blog. So it’s been great to see my two older daughters develop a regular reading habit. Our reading interests aren’t completely aligned, but there’s enough overlap that we occasionally recommend books to each other.
When I do get a recommendation from my duaghters, I do my best to move it toward the top of my reading list. Such was the case with Lexicon by Max Barry. The book had been languishing on my reading list for quite some time. My daughter Courtney read it recently, and given how highly she spoke of it, I decided it was time to move it up the queue.
I read a lot of near-term, hard science fiction. Hard doesn’t mean difficult. Hard means that it’s a realistic view of how technology could evolve in the near future, which is any time within the next 50 years.
A consistent theme in these books revolves around artificial intelligence. Specifically, it’s the threat posed by a runaway, super-intelligent AI that would threaten humanity’s existence. While the stories are fiction, the threat is real. Numerous technologists have warned about it, including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk.
Another technological threat that doesn’t get as much attention is genetic editing. The technology is more commonly referred to as CRISPR. In simple terms, CRISPR gene editing involves changing the genetic structure of a living organism, humans included. While there are numerous positive uses for genetic editing such as vaccine development, the technology can also be used for nefarious purposes.
In his book Change Agent, author Daniel Suarez explores a near-future where gene editing technologies such as CRISPR are readily available. It raises a myriad of ethical questions. Should people be able to select and determine the personalities and capabilities of their children? What happens when the genetic structure of a person is changed, especially if it happens without their permission or knowledge?
Is it possible that philosophical and behavioral concepts practiced and taught over 2,000 years ago are still valid today?
Let’s consider a modern psychotherapy known as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT is a treatment that modern psychologists use to help those who struggle with depression and anxiety. Using CBT, people are taught techniques and approaches to change destructive behaviors and thought patterns that trigger negative emotions.
As it turns out, many of these techniques are not new. They stem from ancient philosophical teachings, primarily those of Stoicism. In his book, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, psychotherapist and trainer Donald Robertson shows how the actions and practices of ancient Stoics, focusing primarily on Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, are fundamentally similar to the techniques taught through CBT.
Next to science fiction, the short story format is one of my favorite types of fiction to read. I love how an author can capture your imagination and compress an engaging story into a compact form. I especially like how a really good short story comes to a close but leaves you with unanswered questions. It forces me to replay the story over and over in my mind and allows me to fill-in the blanks.
Amazon, my nemesis, has been doing a great job putting together short story collections. After reading their Forward collection, I recently finished reading the six short stories of their Hush Collection. Instead of reviewing each of the books individually, I’m going to focus on my favorite of the group, which was Slow Burner by Laura Lippman.
You can see my ranking of all the books in the Hush Collection here: Ranking the Amazon Hush collection of short stories